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Geremy R. Ruoff and Maria Ruoff v. Risnychok and Associates

June 23, 2011

GEREMY R. RUOFF AND MARIA RUOFF, H/W, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RISNYCHOK AND ASSOCIATES, INC.,
ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Oral argument was heard on the motions on June 1, 2011, and the record of that proceeding is incorporated here.

Background

On or about April 11, 2005, Plaintiff Geremy R. Ruoff was involved in an automobile accident in Bordentown Township, New Jersey, while operating a vehicle in the course of his employment for American Asphalt Company, Inc. Plaintiff's truck was struck in the rear by a vehicle operated by Roni L. Michaels and owned by Esther Michaels, insured by State Farm Indemnity Company with (third-party) liability limits of $100,000/$300,000. Plaintiff was seriously injured in the accident, and recovered from the Michaels' insurance company.

At the time of the accident, American Asphalt had a policy of insurance for business/commercial automobile coverage with the Pennsylvania National Mutual Insurance Company, with uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in the amount of $1,000,000. That policy, however, included a step-down provision, which limited uninsured/underinsured coverage to $100,000.

Due to the serious injuries he sustained as a result of the auto accident, Plaintiff made application to his employer's business automobile insurance carrier under the policy for underinsured motorist coverage. On March 6, 2006, Penn National Insurance denied Plaintiff's application for underinsurance motorist benefits because Plaintiff was insured under a family member's policy for similar insurance. Indeed, Plaintiff was insured through his wife's private passenger automobile policy with Hanover Insurance Company, with (first-party) uninsured/underinsured coverage in the amount of $100,000. Therefore, the limits of coverage available under the Penn National Insurance Policy were "stepped down" to the policy limits of $100,000 under the Hanover of New Jersey Policy held by Plaintiff's spouse.

Having collected from the traditional first-party coverage that was available to him, Plaintiff now contends that a commercial umbrella policy issued by The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania to Plaintiff's employer, American Asphalt, provides underinsured motorist benefits that Plaintiff is eligible to receive. To that end, Plaintiff has alleged that he was also insured by Defendants AIG Domestic Claims, Inc. and/or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania. He gave notice of the automobile accident to these Defendants, and requested underinsured motorist benefits under the umbrella policy. Plaintiff contends in Count Seven of the Complaint that Defendants AIG Domestic Claims, Inc. and/or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania have refused to honor his claim for underinsured motorist benefits, and have refused to proceed to underinsured motorist arbitration.

Apparently, AIG Domestic Claims, Inc. is now known as Chartis Claims, Inc. Chartis Claims, Inc. and The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania (ISOP) have now moved for summary judgment [25]. They argue that the ISOP policy does not provide underinsured motorists coverage to Plaintiff, as it is a third-party liability policy that does not provide first-party coverage. Further, Chartis argues that it did not issue and is not a party to the ISOP policy, so there can be no claim against it. Plaintiffs have opposed the motion, and have filed a cross-motion for summary judgment [32]. Plaintiffs contend that the express terms of the umbrella policy provide underinsured motorists coverage where three conditions required for such coverage have been met, so underinsured motorist coverage should be provided here.

Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard "Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (a). The Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (c)(1)(A).

An issue is "genuine" if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F. Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. "A nonmoving party may not 'rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . .'" Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991)). Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. That is, the movant can support the assertion that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed by showing that "an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [alleged dispute of] fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2).

In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Credibility determinations are the province of the ...

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